I lay smiling under the covers, remembering bits of the wonderful dream I'd had: warm lips pressed against mine, the clasp of arms around my waist, the smell of cologne and soap and strawberries...I rolled over, my hands rubbing the sheet searching for my lover's smooth skin, and found nothing. Oh yeah, we'd slept in his bed Saturday night–no way would that happen in my house. I sighed in frustration and my eyes popped open, taking in the numbers on my digital clock.
5:20...5:21. I watched as the numbers flipped again, wondering why I was awake before the alarm was to go off–that never happened to me–not even on a weekend when there was something exciting going on. Not that there ever was–or at least, not until this past weekend. I had to take that back though–for the past several summers, I'd been taken on day trips to historic sites around Ohio by an older Black couple who were friends of my parents; we'd visited Schoenbrunn, Ohio's first settlement, Zoar Village which was a German commune, several sites along the Ohio River including Campus Martius, the first US settlement, and even gone on a canal boat ride! At Zoar, one of the costumed workers teased me about something I said, that I shouldn't tease my parents like that–if only she'd known how much I wanted that to be true–the Martins always had time for me, and it didn't hurt that they liked reading the same things I did, and we'd traded books back and forth for years.
Ten minutes, not even enough time for a good jack, so I turned off the alarm and stretched before getting out of bed to do my morning necessities. With my teeth cleaned and deodorant in the proper spots, I went back to my room and rummaged in my closet for something nice to wear for Jay. With a pair of red corduroys in one hand, I remembered that my red shirt was at his house, so I put them back...when my hand reached for my best pair of jeans, I paused. Don't do anything different, a voice said in one ear, but at the same time, this was Jay, and I wanted to look my best for him. In the end, I pulled the cords back out, and got a burgundy colored Izod polo shirt out of my dresser. I justified it by saying it wasn't a dress shirt like the red one, and pulled on argyle socks and my loafers before heading into the kitchen.
"Dad?" I stopped when I saw him sitting at the little breakfast table, sipping a glass of juice and with a couple of slices of toast. Second shift didn't start until 11, so I had no idea why he was awake this early. The light over the sink was partially blocked by the cabinet next to it, so he was mostly in shadow looking out the big window. He shot me a glance before taking a sip of his juice. I didn't know what else to say after last night's dinner...that wasn't the father I was used to.
"I have to cover part of a morning shift run for a few days while the other guy's out of town..." Okay, I felt a little better–money–this was someone I knew. I was putting together a bologna sandwich to eat while waiting outside for the bus, the garlic lunch-meat was my favorite, even beating out ham and Swiss. I felt the hairs on my neck tingle, and looked over my shoulder to see my dad staring at me. I was getting more and more edgy as I put things back in the fridge. Why was today starting out so weird? "Do you need any money for school?"
I shook my head–I was getting one hundred and fifty bucks each month for being legally blind out of the Social Security dad paid, and planned to spend it on gas and stuff for my car...but it was more than enough for lunches and other things like books and my Lazarus bill. I'd saved up my allowance for buying the car, but it hadn't cost me anything for months–not since I'd found an original owner's manual at a yard sale. "Can I pick up anything for you in town? Some of the stops on this new route are near Eastland..." I wasn't surprised that he didn't know I'd gone to the mall Saturday night since he wasn't one to pry into my business–that was mom's job. I didn't understand what he was after. I froze when the thought came into my head that he had figured out Jay was more than a friend–I didn't know how he could have guessed–and I jumped when I heard him stand and walk over to the sink next to me. He rinsed his dishes and put them in the rack, and I tensed up thanks to all the things swirling through my head when he briefly touched my shoulder. I heard him sigh as he opened the little closet door and pull out his cap and dairy jacket.
"Mikey..." something happened inside when he used that name on me for the second time in one day...a sort of tightness in my throat. I watched him put on his jacket, and set his visored cap on his head–and I thought back to a picture I'd seen in our photo album: it was at our old house on the east side of Columbus, and I must have been about two years old–I was standing on the front walk in only a white cloth diaper, and my dad was crouching behind me, holding me upright by each hand–his tanned face was topped by a similar cap–and he was smiling at the camera as his head was next to mine. In the picture, I was laughing. I had to swallow hard several times to keep myself in control. By some strange quirk of fate, I couldn't remember that day, but it brought back a few warm moments from a few later years. How much I wanted those times again...I tried doing the things he wanted like playing catch, or tossing a football in the yard...even softball with neighbors in our front yard where the maples were the bases, but I felt like I was a disappointment to him because I had little hand-eye coördination. Was that the start of the distance between us now?
"I did the best I could, Mikey...I thought I was better than my dad with my own kids. Things are so different now—parents rarely showed how they felt when I was your age—times were hard because of the Depression, then the War...." I stared at him with open mouth, we never talked about real stuff! For some reason, I couldn't help feeling suddenly angry.
"You talked to Jay more last night, than you have to me in months—all I ever wanted was a little bit of your attention—some time where you were actually with me; I know I'm not good enough, not what you wanted—but I tried, Dad, I really tried." How could I lose control like this? Even a month ago, I wouldn't have—and the only change since then was Jay—now I was letting my emotions run wild, first with him, then yesterday with Dirck, and now my dad—I was beginning to wonder if having them was such a good idea. I felt something on my shoulder, and realized my dad had put my book bag over my left one and was leading me out into the garage. He opened the big wooden door and leaned against the cream-colored trunk of my car.
"I'm going to be a bit late to work, but this is too important, Miles. I was wrong for not saying it, but I was never more proud of you than when you kept trying...it hurt me to see it not working no matter how much you tried; the things you were good at, I wasn't, and didn't know how to help other than to get you the things you needed to do them, like books and sketch pads. By the time you were twelve, you didn't seem to need me any more, and when you got the car, you were determined to do it all yourself. Last night, I saw you opening up to let Jay in, then hearing about the truck project, I thought I might have a second chance to be a good father...but the truck is for you and Jay, not me..." I watched as his eyes got wide for a second, then he gave me a rueful smile. The deep growl of a large engine let me know that the bus had just passed our driveway without stopping...I didn't realize it was 6:15 yet.
"At least some lucky guy gets a day off today," my dad chuckled—actually chuckled! This was a day for Twilight Zone moments. "One thing, Miles—the working lately—it's not to be away from you." I searched his face for some clue as to what it was about, but I couldn't tell anything by it, as usual, thanks to my poor vision. "I can't tell you what it is, maybe in a year, but not now...just understand, it's not because of you or anything you've done." He stood straighter and took a step out toward his Suburban before turning around.
"One more thing, Miles—is it too late—for us?" I think I surprised the shit out of him by how fast I was wrapping my arms around him, and how hard. I don't know how long we stood like that, but I know I was sniffling pretty hard and would need to wipe my glasses off before I could really see again—until a loud honk caused both of us to jump. Dad laughed when he turned to see what it was, but I was pissed! "Looks like your White Knight is here to carry you off to school in his rusty charger."
I stalked over to the driver's door and yanked on the handle. "You motherf..." Almost too late, I remembered my dad was watching and bit my lip to shut myself up. Jay jumped down from the truck, and I felt his hand slide down my hip to steady himself with a fast grope to my butt before he ran over to my dad. "I'm sorry, Mr. Stevenson...I came to pick Mikey up for school...I want to go over a few things before classes start!"
I glared as Jay talked with my dad for a few minutes, then I saw dad give him a couple dollars before getting into his Chevy to leave for work. I waved as he pulled away, then waited for Jay to climb in before I punched him on the arm. "That's for almost making me piss my pants, asshole!" When he turned the truck into the other drive to head out, I waited until we were turning onto the one-lane road before I leaned in and kissed him.
"That was because I missed you..." A grope to his groin produced immediate results, and I gave him a few strokes before leaning back against the passenger door. When he gave me a sigh of protest, I shook my head. "Nope, not touching it again until after school, if you are nice to me."
"You're a dick, Mikey." His pout was so cute, even though I could barely see it in the pre-dawn glow through the windshield as we headed toward the other side of town for school. I put my hand on the gear-shift and he placed his over mine hesitantly, not sure I'd welcome it after what he did. I lifted my hand for a moment to kiss the back of his before putting them both back on the white gear knob. I turned to him as we drove, and pulled one leg up onto the seat to tuck it under the other, letting my crotch be in full view if he glanced over, which he did—often.
"If I'm a dick, so are you....Hey! You know what? That means we're gonna be dicks together all day!" I let my left hand massage my basket when he glared at me, and he growled deep in his throat. Oh wait—there's another thing I needed to do. I opened my belt, popped open the button on my corduroys, and pulled down my zipper. With the flaps wide open, he could see my purple underwear. "The secret word was 'Grape'—did you remember?" He let out a squeak and licked his lips, then nodded hurriedly.
Damn, why did school have to get in the way of our education?
* * * * * * * * * *
Let me just say this, coördination is essential when you have a woody and are trying to zip your pants up while sitting down! Oh, Jay was hilarious with his little jerks of the steering wheel when I'd almost had it—in the end, I was stretched out as straight as possible between the floor and back of the cab, with one hand down my pants to try to push my dick slightly to one side, then button my pants and pull the zipper up with the other hand! I was cussing a blue streak when he finally pulled onto a dirt road and stopped, allowing me to get the job done in just under a minute without his 'help'. Did I say my boyfriend was a dick?
Before Jay could back out onto the road, I put a hand on his thigh to stop him. "We have a few minutes yet—could you just hold me for a little while?" The clock on the dashboard said we still had twenty minutes before the warning bell, and the school was less than five minutes away. I think something in my voice caused him to turn off the engine and reach out for me with his arms. I snuggled into them and rested my head on his shoulder before I let out a long shuddering sigh. Soft lips brushed my forehead as he gripped me tighter.
"Dad was up early—he had to take part of another guy's shift, and he was acting all weird, looking at me while I made breakfast...I thought he might have guessed that we're together—but that wasn't it." I felt Jay relax a little at those last words—he knew how reluctant—no, terrified—I was of my parents finding out I was gay. "I'm glad that wasn't it, but something has you shook up—what is it?" The lips brushed my forehead again.
"At first, he asked if I needed money, or wanted anything from the mall—usual shit—then...he apologized, Jay—he's never done that before...and...and he said he was proud of me." I tried controlling my breathing, but it started to hitch and I had to stop for a second, then I felt Jay's hands rubbing my back to soothe me a bit so I could go on.
"Mikey—that's great—isn't that what you wanted?" I nodded into his shoulder and tried rubbing my eyes, but hit my glasses instead, so Jay pulled them off and lay them on the dashboard so he could wipe my tears away himself.
"But—I yelled at him, Jay—I told him all I wanted was a little of his time, a part of his day when he was with me and not thinking of other things...and then, it got weirder; he said all the work wasn't to be away from me—it never had been, but he couldn't tell me what it was about, not right now anyway." Jay brushed my hair back and wiped my eyes with a handkerchief. "I don't know what to make of that—if it's not me. When you talked about the truck, he said it might be a second chance for him to be a good father—then he said the truck was 'our' project—you and me—not his....Jay, could my Dad help us?"
Jay's laugh was a bit shaky with emotion, but he answered as best he could despite that. "Damn, elskede, you think we can keep Far away? The only reason he won't do too much is because he doesn't know how to weld! Of course, your Dad can help—he's already suggested a cool paint color." He wiped my eyes again, then used a Kleenex to wipe off my glasses before putting them back on me—kissing my nose in the process. "Was there anything else?"
"He asked if it was too late for us...that's when I was hugging him and you scared the crap out of me by honking your horn." We sat for five more minutes as I collected myself, and Jay tweaked my nose, saying I was cute even when I cried. I asked if I looked okay, and the bastard started singing You're So Vain by Carly Simon at me—and he wouldn't stop until he'd finished the song after we parked in the school's lot some five minutes before the warning bell rang.
* * * * * * * * * *
I saw Mikey off to his Lit class as I headed straight ahead through the main doors, his room was off the left corridor farther down from the Office, my history class was half-way down the back corridor on the western side of the central courtyard. These were also our home-rooms this semester. I couldn't get too interested in the New Deal under Franklin D. Roosevelt while images of Mikey's muscled legs filled my head. Second Period was a little better, you had to concentrate on Chemistry or else things could get smelly, smokey or even blow up. I was partially done with my notes when I saw movement through the window in the door—what the fuck was Mikey doing out there, he was supposed to be in Poetry? Mr. Sparks (yeah, I know—but it really was his name) gave me a pass to visit the restroom, and I was out the door like a shot.
The Chem/Science Lab was next to the Library at the south end of the long courtyard, and Mikey dragged me up to its entrance where the back corridor let into this newer section which also held the second lunch-room used by the connecting junior high. One of the rear exits was in a sort of alcove, and that's where we stopped. "I got a pass from Mrs. Orton to hunt for poems in the library...but I had to see you."
"Mikey—we can't just skip class to meet—we both need to keep our grades up or we won't be able to study together...I miss you too, but I'll see you at lunch..."
"I know that—I think I figured out what my Dad didn't want to tell me right now...I think they're having problems—maybe getting a divorce!" That stopped me cold. I'd never worried about that with my parents—but I knew it happened in other families—more and more of them every year. I tried to offer what solace I could, "That's just a guess...let's see what other things we can come up with when we talk at lunch..."
"Boys...where are you supposed to be? Let's see your passes." Ms. Ramsey came out of the Library and held out her hand. After looking the slips over, she turned to Mikey first. "Mr. Stevenson, you'll find the books in there..." she pointed in the direction she'd just come from, and pointed down the western corridor. "Mr. Beckel, the facilities are that way."
I knew she wasn't as harsh as she seemed, so I took a chance. "Ma'am, my friend was worried about something his father said this morning, and wanted to ask me what it meant...I was just telling him we'd talk at lunch." Being one of the school's guidance counselors as well, she softened. "If I can help, Mr. Stevenson, please come to see me any time at all...nothing we talk about goes anywhere except between us—not even your parents will know unless you give me permission to tell them."
Mikey looked at me to see if I agreed, and I nodded—Jerry had told me she was one of the 'good ones'—and there were a few times I thought about telling her I was gay, but unless things got too bad in school, I had enough support at home to get through most anything. I did think Mikey's possible 'parent problem' was one which she could handle better than me.
Mikey colored up a little, and his eyes looked around a moment before he spoke. "Thank you, Ms. Ramsey; I don't know anything for sure yet, and I haven't seen anything strange going on other than what my dad told me this morning...so I'd like to wait a bit until I know more." She nodded and backed off to stand by the Library doors.
I put a hand on Mikey's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "We'll sort it out—I'll see you at lunch..." Thank goodness I remembered to leave in the direction of the boys' restroom! I didn't really need to go, but I stared in the mirror for a bit, thinking once more about how lucky I was to have the parents I did. I hoped that my boyfriend hadn't just found one parent to lose another in the future. I got back to Chemistry in time to finish my notes, and clean my station before the bell.
The rest of my morning didn't give me any problems—Algebra II wasn't exactly cake, at least I got through it without frying any brain cells—but Mrs. Wilson was going on about special projects in English Lit, and I'd have to see if Mikey understood what she was getting at. I couldn't tell if it was a book report, a current events thing, or writing a fucking opera. As it occasionally was, Phys. Ed. just before lunch proved to be the low point of my day so far—today's 'fun' was basketball—something the guys on the team excelled at, but only served to emphasize my lack of height; sure, I could run around the court, weave among the other guys and try to steal the ball, but once I had it—maybe ten percent of the time I'd make a basket, if I took my time and the other guys weren't trying to crowd me against the matting on the wall behind the hoop. I rubbed my arm after Timmy Zane, a real prick and a friend of Linda's current beau, Bob Thomas, pushed me harder than was necessary from under the net. When Bob saw that, he said something to Timmy, who just laughed, then came over to me to see how I was. Okay, Bobby wasn't the worst catch Linda had been around, and his brownish-red hair was pretty nice, but he had poor taste in friends, and I told him so—after thanking him for his concern.
After that, I decided to run a few laps around the gym until Mr. Burton figured out when to blow his whistle for us to hit the showers. I didn't worry about whether this was okay, since not everyone could do basketball at the gym's two hoops—you just had to do it a little bit, then you could do other activities like rope climbing, running, or climbing those dangerous wooden ladder-things which were fastened to the wall—since it was the girls' turn to do outdoor gym today, I ran laps. Not fast, just enough to feel warmth in my muscles, and I tended to focus on the guy in front of me—three or four inches taller, with brown hair. The big ears under the medium-length hair made me smile; I didn't really know Denny Watson, but those ears said it could be no one else. His grandfather or great-grandfather had been a local physician in the last century, but this was his first semester here instead of at the private school he'd gone to previously. I sped up a little to catch him, and said 'hi'.
Grey eyes met my blue ones, and there was no reaction other than a faint curiosity. "Do I know you?" The voice came out evenly between measured breaths—Denny Watson was pacing himself while he ran, probably counting his breaths and heart-rate—I remembered his event was cross-country rather than the usual sprints or dashes where it was all speed and quick bursts of adrenaline. Timing was important in cross-country too, but stamina and setting a winning pace without winding up short at the finish was key. I was breathing harder than he was, so I had to pause to get some wind. "Nope..." I made a show of looking at a watch I'd left in my locker, and went on. "But I think I can fit you in between appointments—name's Jay." I stuck out my hand, waggling it in front of him and making half-hearted feints at his stomach until he grabbed it and shook it. "Dennis Watson."
I had to stretch just a bit to keep pace with him, but once I got into the rhythm, it was easier. "I know—I'm sorry I haven't spoken to you until now—my mind has been on other things this semester, but that's all better since this last week-end," I took in another lungful of air before continuing. "It's nice to see a new face...are you glad you're back here, rather than out East?" I was pretty sure we'd gone to elementary together, but he had been in a private school for junior high and the first two and a half years of high school. I had vague memories of a quiet boy back then, and he was still quiet now, if much taller. Those gray eyes focused on me again, not cold, but I think cautious, afraid to let someone in?
"It's school, man...we have to be here..." I laughed at that truism, and he added, "It beats being locked away at the ass-end of Nowhere in Maine. What are you after, Jay? Why are you talking to me?" I was so stunned I stumbled and stopped dead in my tracks, and he turned to face me, hands on his hips and a questioning eyebrow raised. Why would he think I was after something? I'd never had anyone question why I wanted to be their friend before.
I saw Mr. Burton glancing around, taking stock of the scattered knots of boys in his charge, and knew he'd blow his whistle in a minute for us to shower before fleeing to our other classes. "Y'know, that's something—I've never had someone ask why I was trying to be a friend. Ask most anybody here—except Timmy Zane—and they'll say I'm an okay guy. I don't want anything from you, and I don't need another friend since I have plenty. Excuse me for being a nice guy...I hope you have a good afternoon." And I headed to the showers without looking back. I was more than half-way to the stairs leading under the stage where both locker-rooms and showers were when the coach finally sounded his whistle, so I stopped at my locker to strip off my sweaty tee and shorts, ending with the jock and socks last in my laundry bag. I grabbed my towel from the top shelf, and was first into the tiled shower room with my bar of Ivory soap.
The water warmed slowly as the pressure lessened just a bit due to the turning on of other shower-heads as more boys filed into the big room. I let the water rinse off most of the sweat before I started applying the bar over my chest, around my neck, legs and arms. The bubbles lathered up and were almost as quickly rinsed away before I rubbed more into my crotch and underarms. My glance roved around the room—we were all an example of homogeneity—all white, all seventeen give-or-take, and with the same genitalia—again, more-or-less...some a lot more than less. As I think I'd said somewhere, most of our school district was farming country, and that meant mostly European stock—so other than hair colors ranging from black to near white-blond, we were essentially the same; there were no Black kids in our school, maybe two or three Hispanics—and one of those was an exchange student. Last year, there'd been a French kid and a German...this year just the one Spaniard, and next year, who knew? If I got really lucky, there'd be a Dane, or another German I could practice with—we knew German, but preferred speaking Danish rather than my family's other language—my grandparents claimed Danish as their native language in 1925 when they immigrated, since the First World War had left bad feelings here against Germans, and the rise of the Nazis hadn't helped dispel those feelings.
After rinsing my hair, I put the bar of soap back into its little plastic container and began rubbing myself all over with the towel. I kept my eyes carefully neutral—I didn't want to look at anyone besides Mikey, but hormones are evil bastards who will pump up your dick even if there's nothing going on but a soft breeze to get it going. Heading toward my locker, I glanced to where Bob and Timmy were drying off, and thought Linda had pretty good taste as far as bodies went—Bob was decent-sized, but now I thought I understood why Timmy bullied people—even at 5'8, I was bigger than him in more areas than just mental capacity. I put the towel in my laundry bag and pulled out the skimpy purple briefs Mikey gave me, and was pulling them up when I heard a scuffle and a taunting laugh that sounded like Timmy Zane's.
"Look at the fag—wearing his sister's panties!"
I felt heat rise to my face thinking the prick was talking about me, but a quick glance over my left shoulder showed him standing on the other side of one of the long benches from Denny Watson, who'd just put his towel down to pull on his underwear. He was standing, frozen, partly turned away from Timmy, and I had a perfect view of his front—from his hairless chest and legs, to the neon green-and-white striped briefs, only a bit less revealing than mine. His eyes were downcast, like he was waiting for more abuse—as if it was nothing new to him—and that made me mad...so I stalked over before the prick could say anything else. Where did Zane get off, thinking he could pull shit like that? Sure, the dumb jock had four inches on me, and at least thirty pounds, but my sense of justice was aroused, and common sense went out the window.
Turning to Denny, I pointed back to my open locker. "Grab your stuff—there's an empty locker next to mine—the air's fresher over there, and the company's better!" I could sense other boys looking now—was there going to be a fight? I didn't want one, but there was no chance of me backing down from an idiot like Zane. I faced him with my hands clenched into fists at my sides, and in a cold, steady voice, I ripped him apart. "Last year in Psych class, we learned about something called 'Overcompensation'—it means you don't think you measure up in that area, so you attack someone else to make up for it—in this case, you're hinting Watson's gay because you don't think you're much of a man, and by all the evidence you show us, I think you might be right for once—about yourself." I didn't say it—didn't actually need to since most of us saw the size of Timmy's dick every day in the showers. If I'd been less incensed, I'd have seen more than one mouth open in shock and eyes widen with surprise.
"You better face the hard truth now, Zane—in the real world, your being a football jock doesn't mean shit—my Dad says a real man is measured by what's inside: honor, integrity, and compassion for others—I bet that's also why you can't usually get a second date with the same girl, they talk to each other, and they all say you're an asshole. It's never too late to change Timmy—I hope you do, 'cause I can see you in ten years sitting in a jail cell wondering where it all turned to shit."
I took several deep breaths after having exhausted my adrenaline store for the moment, and only then did I see Bobby looking at Timmy's red face, then turn to me. "That was pretty harsh, Jay—what's gotten into you?" He went to stand next to his friend, and they dressed quickly before Timmy left with a glare in my direction.
I slumped onto the bench in front of my locker, and it took me a minute or two to focus on things outside my own head. Dennis Watson had joined me, pulling on his pants and shirt, then he held out the blue tee-shirt I'd worn today. Other boys were finishing up and leaving to talk on the wooden bleachers in the gym until the bell, but I didn't notice. I felt a nudge on my shoulder. "Raise your arms, Jay." I did, then I felt hands putting my arms through the sleeves of my shirt, then start to pull the hem down until my head was the last to pop out the neck-hole. I couldn't see, and didn't know what was wrong until Dennis took a Kleenex from his new locker and wiped the tears from my eyes.
"Fuck, Denny—what have I done?" I felt like I'd done the very thing I'd accused Timmy of—overcompensating—but for what? I never lost my temper like that before, and I couldn't figure out why. There was no focus to my world, no place I could find refuge from what I'd done. I only half-heard the words Dennis said as he sat down and pulled on his socks and loafers.
"That's not the worst thing I've had said about me...I had to leave my old school because it was a lot worse..." I looked at him blankly for a minute, still not fully present, but I was looking for an anchor just then. "The boys there had a nick-name for me—Jughead—thanks to my big ears—then two years ago when I turned 15, it wasn't a nice name anymore..." I saw him look around before he continued, but even though we were the last two there, he lowered his voice to a whisper anyway, with tears starting to trail down his cheeks. "...one of the older boys started saying it was because it gave him something to hold onto when he made me blow him."
I could barely hear the words Denny was trying to get out at this point, they were scarcely more than moving air, and were spaced apart by desperate sobs. Was he telling me he was gay like me—or that he'd been forced into doing something he didn't like? It made no difference which way it was—he needed a friend, and I was going to be that whether he wanted me to be or not. My fingers found the Pegasus around my neck, and I found my inner peace and direction. Fuck Timmy Zane—Denny must have thought it was starting all over again here...well, gay or not, I could think of at least two other people who would be his friends no matter what, starting with my Mikey. I put my hand on his shoulder. "Denny, it's not going to be like your old school—you've got friends now..." and here I lowered my own voice to near-inaudibility." Gay or not, we'll stick by you."
Denny still wouldn't meet my eyes as he went on. "It was supposed to be a joke—to him it was—but it didn't stay that way long; one of the guys in my suite—who I thought was my friend—made it a fact one night when he snuck some beer into a Friday night dance." He took a deep shuddering breath, and his face was scarlet with embarrassed shame. "You know what's worse still? I think, if he hadn't forced me...I'd have enjoyed it."
I shook his shoulder gently to get his attention. "Did you hear me? It doesn't matter, we'll be your friends—I can't name names, but you aren't the only guy around this dump who likes more than a little jerking with another boy." When his eyes met mine, they were popping out of his head. "Hey—I'm told there are at least seven more...now come on, it's almost time for lunch!"
"Jay!..." I stopped and turned back to see Denny rising from the bench, holding a pair of blue jeans. "You might want to wear more than your shirt and shorts—maybe some pants? Some socks and shoes wouldn't hurt either." I stalked back to the seat and took my jeans from him, thrust my legs into them, and sank down to put on my socks and sneakers. The whole time, I was mumbling to myself.
"Goddamned motherfucking Sock Curse—don't tell me it includes pants now!"
* * * * * * * * * *
Passing through the lunch line I was dismayed to see that, once again, I'd forgotten it was Mystery Meat Monday...the Johnny Marzetti was the saving grace for my meal—even the district's ham-handed idiots couldn't mess up macaroni, tomato sauce, beef and cheese. A double dollop of that landed on my pale-green tray, and I added green beans, buttered bread and apple-sauce. Coming to the end, I smiled at Kurt and he put two cartons of chocolate milk on my tray with a grin. Heading out the door into the big cafeteria, I wondered how we'd let him know that we were a couple now...it bothered me because he was such a nice guy, and if he'd called me even four days earlier than he had, I could have been dating him rather than Jay. I couldn't picture what that would be like—in a matter of a couple days, my Dane had become my world. As I took my seat at our usual table, my hand went to the silver oak around my neck, and I couldn't help smiling.
Seeing Linda over by the front windows talking with her friends was normal, but when she caught my eye and nodded, I was shocked, though I nodded back. I saw her boyfriend come in with one of his friends, and since I knew he had gym with Jay, I started looking for my man to exit the lunch line. When he finally came out, his eyes lit on me and I knew he was smiling as much as I was—and I completely missed the taller guy behind him until Jay put his tray down across from me and the other guy put his at the end of the table between us. I knew I'd seen him around the halls a couple times, but had no idea that Jay knew him well enough to bring him to join us—he'd not done that with any of his other friends this semester. "I see Kurt saved you some milk—that's good since mor didn't make any goodies yesterday."
"Like I believe that...I'll ask her when we study tonight if you ate all of them." I knew he wouldn't have without saving some for me, so he was telling the truth, but I had to tease him anyway—that was a boyfriend's prerogative, right? It seemed to work that way for straight couples, so goose-and-gander suited me fine. I don't know, just having him across the table from me filled a void I hadn't realized was there until he showed up...the weird part was that this wasn't just a mental lack, but a physical one also. When Jay was settled, I put my foot out under the table to rub his ankle softly, but his smile didn't change like I'd expected it to...so I pulled my foot back and saw the new guy shift in his seat and I heard a little thump on the leg of his chair. "Sorry," he said quietly...and my face went red. Holy shit—had I just rubbed this guy's ankle? Jay saw the confused expression on my face, and smacked his head as he put down his own milk.
"Dang—sorry. Don't tell mor I forgot my manners again! Mikey, this is Denny Watson from my gym class...Denny, this is my ven Mikey. We have Art last period together, and study most nights at his house or mine." I hadn't heard Jay mention this guy before, so I wondered what was going on now...nevertheless, I extended my hand to shake, and he gripped it hesitantly, before quickly letting go. His gray eyes looked from me to Jay and back, and his voice was on the quiet side when he spoke.
"Actually...it's Dennis—I don't like being called 'Denny'." He paused for a second after glancing at Jay, then gave me a grin. "Det glæder mig, Mikey." I gave him a smile and shook my head sadly. "I'll try to remember that, Dennis...and my own name is really Miles, but our friendly little puppy there—" I pointed at Jay to clarify things, missing the slight hint of worry to his expression, "would rather die than be so formal with other kids."
"Shut up, Mikey; Dennis just started this semester—he's been at school back in Maine for nearly five years. Somewhere back in his family was a local doc who was really popular, but don't hold that against him." I saw Dennis was looking a bit uncertain, which told me he hadn't known Jay more than a day or two at most...if he had, he'd know that my boyfriend was so full of shit it was a wonder his eyes weren't brown. I waved my fork at Jay and gave him a warm smile.
"Don't worry too much, man...he'll pull your leg until it comes off in his hand, but you'll never have a truer friend when you need one." I put my hand to the pendant under my shirt and smiled, which made Jay's face light up and I saw his hand grasp his own charm for a second. "So, how did he manage to butt into your life?"
Dennis' face tried to do two things at the same time—turn pale and redden with embarrassment...he was trying to form a reply when Jay cut in. "Timmy Zane was searching for a new victim in the locker room after showers." Ah, that explained a lot...I managed to stay under the guy's radar most of the time, getting away with nothing more harmful than being called 'Four-Eyes', but if he was on the hunt, then it wouldn't have been pretty. I tried taking some of the pressure off the situation by giving Dennis' arm a little punch and following that with a grin. "Any enemy of Timmy Zane's is a friend of mine."
I winked at Jay to let him know something was coming up, and changed the subject to something pretty universal with kids our age. "So, what's your poison music-wise? Foreigner, Tull, Zeppelin, the Stones, Bowie...the Partridge Family?" Jay's glare was so cute. "I think Jay has a crush on Keith Partridge..."
"You're a dick...I'm not the one who was listening to that weird shit by Kraftpaper in the truck Saturday...honest to god, the damn song went on for half an hour!" I wasn't sure if Jay was ragging on my music because I'd done it to him, or he'd actually forgotten the name of the group...but before I could correct him, Dennis spoke up. "You don't mean Kraftwerk do you? They're one of my favorite groups. My parents wouldn't let me go to their concert in New York last April...."
The clattering of another tray on the table snapped me back to reality—I'd have loved to see the live performance of Autobahn...but the closest they got to us was Cincinnati, and my parents wouldn't have allowed it, even though I could have bought the tickets with my own money. Mom would have had a fit. I saw Kurt settle into the seat across from Dennis, and saw that like most of us, he'd opted for the Marzetti instead of the 'brown terror from the Unknown Kitchen'.
"Hey Greg, will you please tell us what that brown crap is every Monday?" Jay's voice had a pleading note to it, but I was just as interested—not that I'd ever eat that stuff. Greg put his milk down, made a show of looking around to see if any adults were nearby, and leaned into the center of the table...where three heads quickly joined him, eager to learn the secret behind 'Mystery Meat'. We were all ears, and Greg milked it for all it was worth, his voice coming out in a hoarse whisper.
"You can't tell anybody—if they find out I told...I'll be gone. Promise?" We all nodded, and leaned in even closer, like the chumps we were. "Mystery Meat is...it's people. It's made out of people!" Jay and I jerked back, mouths wide in astonished annoyance—but it was Dennis who laughed uproariously first.
"I don't know who you are, but you're a putz! That's the line from Soylent Green!"
Greg was in fits looking at our faces, mine was grimacing in agonized pain at the bad joke, Jay was indignant that he'd fallen for it, and Dennis was grinning at the way we'd all been taken in by Greg's ruse. Greg got himself together and extended a hand across the table for Dennis to shake, shooting me and Jay glares that we'd not introduced them as soon as he sat down. I did the honors since Jay was too busy scarfing down his lunch. "Greg, this is Dennis Watson—he's a friend of ours; Dennis this is Greg, dispenser of goodies from behind the lunch counter."
I watched as the two boys shook hands and exchanged greetings with tentative smiles, as people will at first meeting someone new. When the 'hellos' were over, Jay asked when lime Jell-O would be on the menu again, and I wondered why Dennis blushed at that—this guy was either terminally shy or Jay was hinting at something. I didn't catch on until he asked the same about grape, saying it was our favorite flavor. Greg looked back and forth at us, wondering what all the fuss was about school desserts, and I'm sure I turned even redder when his eyes took in my little squirming motion in my seat. Great, now I had the image of my boyfriend in his purple briefs seared into my head. Jay shot me an evil grin and I felt his foot against mine, ankle to ankle at first, then he moved it a little further up my calf before pulling back.
When Jay was in one of these moods, there was no telling what was next, so I was a little let down but also relieved, when all he did was ask what flavor Jell-O Greg liked. Two pairs of speculative eyes fixed on the auburn-haired lunch attendant, while Dennis just looked curious about what the deal was with us. No doubt he thought his new friends were insane. That wasn't true on my part, but I sometimes had to wonder about Jay—my Dane was impulsive and spontaneous quite often, but you never knew when it would strike. I watched as the merry twinkle in his amazingly blue eyes doubled in intensity, and the corner of his mouth tried to suppress an oncoming twitch. All of a sudden, I knew what answer he was hoping for—cherry—and I sent prayers up to the gods that Greg would say anything besides that.
Greg seemed to think about the question for a long time, and he looked at the three of us before settling on Jay, who was waiting expectantly. "I don't know what you're up to, Jay Beckel, but I'm not playing...here's a hint: PPBBBTTT!"
I dissolved into giggles at the shock on my lover's face at the huge 'raspberry' Greg just gave him...it wasn't every day that someone turned the tables on one of his jokes and got him back. Dennis was the last to start laughing, probably because he still felt like an outsider, but he did give us a few chuckles. I heard "Spoilsport," come from Jay's side of the table, and that set us off again.
Greg finished up his meal quickly since he had to get back to working and clearing tables, so we kept it down while he filled his stomach. When he stood up to put his trash in the can nearby, he gave Dennis a parting glance before waving to us. "If you want something special from the lunch line, let me know tomorrow, Dennis—some things run out by the time this last section gets started...I save a couple chocolate milks for Miles, so it won't be a problem to do the same for you."
Dennis looked flattered by the offer, and he nodded with a big smile. "Thanks, Greg—I'd like that a lot; if there's ever fresh fruit, could you save me a piece? Strawberries or apples are good, maybe even an orange..."
"You got it, Denny! I'll set something aside for you tomorrow. See ya then!"
Weird—Dennis showed no sign of correcting Greg's use of his shortened name.
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